Alarmed at the expected shift towards a negotiated and peaceful handling of the problem of militancy in Pakistan’s tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan, two senior US officials arrived in Islamabad on March 24, hours after Makhdoom Yusuf Raza Gilani was chosen Prime Minister by the newly elected parliament.
The Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Assistant Secretary Richard Boucher held separate meetings with President Pervez Musharraf, Co-Chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party Asif Ali Zardari (whose nominee is now the Prime Minister) and Mian Nawaz Sharif, the former Prime Minister and leader of a major coalition party in the coalition government of Pakistan.
John Negroponte, believed to be the architect of much talked about power-sharing deal struck between Late Benazir Bhutto and President Musharraf which is believed to be still intact, also called on army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
The Negroponte’s talks in Islamabad came amid persistent reports that the new government would seek a negotiated settlement to resolve the current unrest in the tribal territories that resulted in the deterioration of security situation in the country with frequent suicide bomb attacks.
After meeting with Negroponte, Nawaz Sharif said that he told the American envoys there was ''no longer a one-man show in Pakistan'' and that the new parliament - elected in February polls that dealt a crushing defeat to Musharraf's allies - would decide after exhaustive debate how Pakistan should approach extremism.
He held Musharraf's U.S.-backed policies responsible for the wave of suicide bombings and argued the security of Pakistan must not be sacrificed to protect other countries. ''It is unacceptable that while giving peace to the world we make our own country a killing field.'' ''If America wants to see itself clean of terrorism, we also want our villages and towns not to be bombed,'' he said, alluding to recent air strikes near the Afghan border apparently carried out by U.S.
This is what Nawaz Sharif told the New York Times last week. “We will deal with them sensibly. When you have a problem in your family, you don't kill your own family, you sit and talk. Britain got the Ireland problem solution. So what's the harm in negotiations?” He has also asked the United States to come up with a clear definition of the global war on terrorism.
Similar sentiments were expressed by Maulana Fazlur Rehman, a leading religious and political figure of the North Western Frontier Province, while addressing the inaugural session of the parliament he demanded the government end the ongoing military operation in the Tribal Areas and Balochistan: “I demand that the military operation be immediately stopped and all political prisoners be freed.”
The Bush administration views the tribal areas as a sanctuary for Taliban forces which cross the border into Afghanistan to fight American and NATO forces, as well as a base for Al Qaeda to plot new terrorist attacks in the United States and Europe.
Pakistanis, however, have come to see the tribal areas as something entirely different: a once peaceful region where a group of militants have turned their wrath on the rest of the country as punishment for the American alliance.
Many civilians were among the 274 people killed since the beginning of the year, but the dead also included young soldiers and policemen. A bomb explosion on March 15 at an Italian restaurant favored by foreigners in Islamabad wounded four FBI agents and underscored for Pakistanis yet again the American involvement.